Predicting Outcomes of Likely First-Round Playoff Series
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Doesn't it seem like just yesterday we tipped off the 2012-13 NBA season? As it turns out, the playoffs are right around the corner, and we have a pretty good idea as to which teams will face off in Round 1.
While most seeds haven't been decided yet, each remaining schedule is a big indicator of how each squad will finish. Nobody knows for sure which matchups we'll see first, but it's safe to say that the pieces are falling into place for some exciting first-round battles.
No. 1 Miami Heat vs. No. 8 Milwaukee Bucks
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The Miami Heat have had the No. 1 seed locked up for a while now, due large in part to the 27-game winning streak that nearly made NBA history.
They're rolling heading into the postseason, and they have the luxury of being able to rest their stars as the year comes to an end.
The Milwaukee Bucks, on the other hand, didn't clinch a playoff spot until April 6, and they're doing everything in their power to obtain the No. 7 spot.
Although the Bucks have winnable games against the Charlotte Bobcats and Orlando Magic on their schedule, they also have the Heat, the Denver Nuggets and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Atlanta Hawks won't be easy, either, making the seventh seed a bit of a reach.
The Bucks have given Miami trouble with their length, but if you remember correctly, that was before the Heat seemingly flipped the switch. This is a motivated Heat squad, and it's going to take a much better team on both ends of the floor to knock them out of the playoffs.
Prediction: Miami advances (4-0)
No. 4 Brooklyn Nets vs. No. 5 Chicago Bulls
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If one thing has become clear for the Chicago Bulls, it's that they could really use Derrick Rose once the playoffs roll around.
Chicago has won games with its defense during the 2012-13 season. It's third in points allowed, it has a shot-blocking presence in Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson and even perimeter players such as Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler know how to disrupt passing lanes.
The problem is that the team simply can't score, which will be trouble if it matches up against the Brooklyn Nets.
Brooklyn is averaging just 96.4 points per game, but it is holding its opponents to 95. Chicago is the worst scoring team out there, and when placed against a good defense, life is going to be difficult.
Aside from Rose, this team has dealt with injuries all over the roster—most notably Noah and Luol Deng. The Bulls have done more without their star than some anticipated, but a run in the playoffs seems unlikely.
Prediction: Brooklyn advances (4-2)
No. 3 Indiana Pacers vs. No. 6 Atlanta Hawks
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If it weren't for the streaking New York Knicks, the Indiana Pacers would likely be sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference.
This team epitomizes a defensive-minded unit. It struggles scoring the ball with regularity, but that has yet to be a problem, as it allows just 90.2 points per contest.
The Atlanta Hawks are a middle-of-the-road offensive team—15th in points per game. Scoring should be difficult for them in this matchup, which means their defense must take advantage of an inconsistent Pacers offense.
Rebounding is going to be a big theme in this series. The Hawks have had trouble pulling down boards during 2012-13, while Indiana has a chance to enter the postseason as the No. 1 rebounding squad in the league.
Atlanta exceeded expectations following the departure of Joe Johnson, but its run should be a short one with the Pacers clearly on another level.
Prediction: Indiana advances (4-1)
No. 2 New York Knicks vs. No. 7 Boston Celtics
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If things keep looking up for the New York Knicks, they will begin the playoffs as the hottest team in the NBA.
The team out East caught fire at the right time. They've won 12 straight as of their April 7 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Carmelo Anthony is making a serious push at becoming the scoring champion by the end of the year.
New York has floated right around the top-five mark when it comes to three-point shooting, and that category will be a make-or-break area in a seven-game series.
When it comes to its likely matchup against the Boston Celtics, you can't look at just the stat sheets—you have to look at the bad blood. These two teams have shown they don't like each other, and while New York won three of four games, they were physical battles that went down to the wire twice.
The Knicks have the edge, as Boston has been one of the most inconsistent teams, but this could prove to be one of the most entertaining first-round series.
Prediction: New York advances (4-2)
No. 1 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 8 Utah Jazz
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With the season coming to an end, the question on everybody's mind is: Who will be the eighth seed in the Western Conference?
At this point, we can all but count out the Dallas Mavericks. However, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Utah Jazz are in a tight race.
Utah owns the tiebreaker against L.A., and with two of its final four games against the Minnesota Timberwolves, nobody should be surprised if it sneaks in when it's all said and done.
If there's one other thing to note about this series, it's that the San Antonio Spurs are no shoe-in for the No. 1 spot. The Oklahoma City Thunder are making a strong case for first place, and an injured Tony Parker and an injured Manu Ginobili won't help San Antonio's cause.
That being said, the Spurs are deep, and Gregg Popovich knows how to utilize that depth. This team has six players averaging double digits and a backup point guard in Gary Neal posting nine points per contest.
Nothing is guaranteed in the Wild Wild West, but if San Antonio can lock up first, it has a chance to begin another deep run with a convincing first round.
Prediction: San Antonio advances (4-0)
No. 4 L.A. Clippers vs. No. 5 Memphis Grizzlies
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The Los Angeles Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies faced off in the 2012 Western Conference quarterfinals. The series went seven games, and it proved to be one of the most physical showings of the entire postseason.
Now, with the two teams occupying the fourth and fifth spots respectively, it appears that they're headed for another faceoff in 2013.
The Grizzlies have become known for their defensive tenacity. They allow the fewest points per game with the playoffs approaching. They've shown that they can make life difficult for L.A. by bullying Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, and they'll take that same approach moving forward.
Where the Clippers have the clear advantage is offense. They average 101 points per contest, which is going to be a focus in this one. When the Grizzlies allow triple digits, they're just 3-8 on the year.
What you can't forget about the Clippers is that they also excel defensively. They don't have the physical prowess of Memphis, but they give up the fourth-fewest points of any team.
Memphis will stick around, but the fast-paced attack of the Clippers should earn them a second-round appearance.
Prediction: L.A. advances (4-3)
No. 3 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 6 Golden State Warriors
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If you're looking for a high-scoring playoff series, look no further than the Denver Nuggets and the Golden State Warriors.
These two teams combine for 206.9 points per contest, they are both in the top five when it comes to pace (according to ESPN) and neither has made defense a priority during the 2012-13 season.
What might be surprising is that these two squads are the third- and fourth-best rebounding teams respectively. It's true that more possessions equal more rebounds, but players such as Kenneth Faried and David Lee have the timing needed to dominate the glass on a nightly basis.
With Danilo Gallinari out of the lineup, the Warriors have a chance to take advantage of a team without its second-leading scorer. However, the Nuggets are one of the deepest teams in the league, as they has four other players averaging double digits, as well as three more players averaging at least eight points per game.
The Nuggets have been the best home team in 2012-13, as they've posted an astonishing 35-3 record at Pepsi Center. That will be the true difference, and that will be why Denver advances.
Prediction: Denver advances (4-3)
No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 7 Houston Rockets
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It's fitting, isn't it? James Harden, in his first playoff appearance with the Houston Rockets, will have a chance to take down the team that traded him, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Unfortunately for Harden and his teammates, they will be serious underdogs at this point in their rebuild.
The Rockets have the ability to score with anybody in the league. They've been either the highest-scoring or second-highest scoring team for most of the year, and their ability to score at the rim, from the perimeter and in the fast break will challenge any team on any given night.
The problem is that their defense allows way too many points—102.7 to be exact—and that's a recipe for disaster against the Thunder.
OKC averages 105.8 points per game, which is good enough for third in the league. They have the NBA's top scorer in Kevin Durant, and when he and Russell Westbrook are clicking—as they have been most of the season—nobody on the Rockets stands a chance at stopping them.
Harden exacted his revenge in a 122-119 win on February 20, but that sole victory is hardly enough to convince most that the Thunder will crumble.
Prediction: OKC advances (4-1)